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Mississippi River Bike Trail - Part 4

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Mississippi River Bike Trail - Part 4

Be Patient and Trust Your Journey

For a month, the only certainty each morning was that I would pedal my Trek 420. Even a rest day would log a dozen or more miles. Not knowing how any particular day would unfold, where I would sleep for the night, or who I would meet along the way was the adventure. "Be patient and trust your journey" was posted on a light post in The Netherlands and the mantra holds true on this trip, too.

When I begin a trip like this, much is wide open and undefined. A week in and the journey takes its form. Now as I close in on its finish, other considerations come into play. After Ferguson, Missouri, I joined the Katy Trail in St. Charles. At 240 miles, it is the longest rail-to-trail conversion in the United States. It crosses Missouri to Clinton, just outside Kansas City, where I will stop pedaling and send my bicycle home. Early on, I rode the Paul Bunyan Trail in Minnesota, and it is a luxury to again be on a maintained trail with no cars or trucks as company. The trick in finishing out is to take my time. I don't want to arrive in Clinton too soon; neither do I want to have to put in too many miles to arrive at the right time.

I will miss the turkey buzzards. Those big birds will migrate south the moment a chill fills the air. "Big wusses," the local folks told me. Bald eagles are tough and will stick around for several weeks longer than the buzzards. For several hundred miles, it seemed the buzzards followed me south, but I enjoyed imagining they awaited some unforeseen calamity. Or opportunity, depending upon your point of view. Now that I am in Missouri, the weather has warmed again and the birds have stayed put.

One correspondent suggested I am out on "walkabout." I'd counter that "rollabout" is more apt, although I just think of this as my "look around." In a way that is new to me, I am looking around our country. I didn't know, for example, that it was still possible to log a thousand miles and not see a Starbucks. You can, and I did. My streak stands at 31 days but I suspect it'll end in the coming days.

I am so glad that I was hosted by Carl and Corissa Thorn in Ferguson. Carl is a native of the community and I saw it much more as it is than as it has been portrayed to us. If you could have seen the expressions on peoples' faces when I'd casually mention I was heading to Ferguson, you'd know why I had to go. Little skill was needed to read their minds and what they wanted to say about all them (you know the word) causing so much trouble. Instead, I bicycled into a community that has been battered by its coverage in our national media. Property values have dropped by half, yet people stay. Same as you would if their tragedy had happened where you live. Some bad things happened in a nice place and too many paid a price. I had to see for myself and I would not have missed the opportunity.

For many of my miles I have enjoyed being alongside rivers. From Wisconsin and into Iowa and Illinois, I have enjoyed vistas of hundreds of acres of corn and soybeans awaiting harvest (and now being harvested). Too, I know those thousand acre spreads are the culprit for the dying towns and decaying, abandoned roadhouses and diners along the way. Corporate farm spreads look good to the eye, but they are not necessarily good to the community. The family farms that supported these small towns I have seen are long gone. Even the farm dogs that used to torment passing bicyclists are no more. These days, I do not understand how towns with less than 200 inhabitants survive.

The vendors for the annual pumpkin fest in Hartsburg are packing up. Soon, I'll put down my tent for the night, one more to go. I started this trip where Hemingway and Dylan found ways to create. I went from there to where Mark Twain became one of our nation's literary icons. This last couple of days I followed along the trail that President Jefferson sent the Great Expedition of Discovery. Lewis and Clark logged about 11 miles a day. I ride 50 or 60. You can drive across the state in a few hours. I'm convinced my pace is about right.

Kindnesses continue. Several days back the bearings of my rear axle fell out. A couple headed north picked me up, turned around and drove me 30 miles to Quincy where there is a hotel and a bike shop. Madison-Davis Bike Shop opened its doors early for me and a couple of hours later I was on my way. In large ways and small, it is the help of such strangers that has made this trip such a success and so enjoyable.

I'm still typing with my thumbs and can't get out thanks to all the folks who hosted me and contributed to my effort. I will.

I'm about a hundred miles out, so two mid-distance days and a car await. Even now, I still get the comments like, "I wish I had the time to travel." We all have the time. It's all we really have. It's all a matter of how we choose to spend it. Oh, and it doesn't hurt to have a spouse who understands my travel need as much as I do. With that, I am lucky.

Some states have road signs that say, "Watch for Falling Rocks," while in other states, they say, "Watch for Fallen Rocks." Is a rock that is falling down a hillside fallen? Do transportation officials debate these issues at their conferences? I do wonder about the oddest things.

October 12, 2015
Augusta, Missouri
On the Katy Trail

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Thank you for sharing your story! It was a good read, and as always, made me want to get back on the bike again. I took the Katy Trail across Missouri several years ago when I rode across the country, and it's still one of the more memorable parts of the trip. Keep on rollin'!
- Ryan

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